(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, November 15, 2013 6:50 PMShoeboxes full of Christmas treats are being collected to make lasting impressions around the world through the Operation Christmas Child program.
The program collects donated shoeboxes packed with Christmas gifts and essential items such as school supplies and toothbrushes. The shoeboxes are then donated to needy children in 100 countries around the world.
Last year 15,000 boxes were collected in Southwest Louisiana. The goal is to increase that total to 18,000 this year.
Operation Christmas Child is a project started by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization founded by Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
Dina Peters was the first local donor this year dropping off a trio of boxes at The Dwelling Place on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s just something I have heard about over the years, I have three small kids and I wanted something to show them that Christmas is not just about getting things, it is about reaching out to other people,” Peters said.
“I have a boy and two girls so we did a boy box and two girls boxes. In the boys box we put a little basketball, markers, a note pad, Band-Aids, pencils, erasers, stickers, a tool set, small things like that. In the girls boxes we had a little baby doll, necklaces and the school supplies. Everett, 4, and 2-year-old twins Evangeline and Elynne helped pack the boxes.
“Christmas is about Jesus to us, that is more important than anything else. The thought that you could reach out to someone that doesn’t even know him is great. The box is nothing to us, but means a lot to them. I read somewhere about a family that shared one toothbrush, so we put that in there, too.”
Local organizer James Groves has participated in the program since its inception.
“We have had tremendous response from the people of Southwest Louisiana,” he said.
“The recipients are kids who have been devastated by poverty, war and disasters. Many of them have never received a gift. Some of the items in there are like soap, wash cloths, small toys, real simple things they get real excited about. The group of things we put in every box are school supplies, crayons, toothbrush, toothpaste. There is always an anchor item like a toy or stuffed animal or ball, then candy. We put candy in all of them, we find that in a lot of the countries the boxes go to, only rich people have candy. It’s a big deal for them.”
Boxes have been donated to 150 countries in every continent over the past two decades. Each year, 100 countries are chosen to receive boxes.
Groves said that helping children around the world grow spiritually is rewarding.
“One of the most recent things to happen that has excited a lot of people associated with participating churches is a teaching program that goes along with it,” he said.
“It is a discipleship program that teaches kids about the Bible. The recipients have an opportunity to sign up for that program if they want to be a part of it. I went to Uganda a year ago and found out a box of colors costs a week’s wages there. You can imagine how excited kids are when they get that. Knowing that you are making a difference in a child’s life and knowing you are giving them hope and connecting them with ministries that can help them spiritually.”
George Heard helps plan the logistics of collecting and sending out the donated boxes.
“My wife has been doing boxes for about 14 years. Once I retired from Chennault, I had more time to do things, and this is a worthwhile and meaningful activity,” he said.
“I had the opportunity to go to a conference with people who had received boxes as children. One young lady, that was the first time anyone had given her a gift. She was an orphan in Russia. It was the first time that someone that hugged her and told her they loved her. There were 22 girls in the orphanage sharing one toothbrush. A shoebox was a life-changing experience for her. It is hard for us to fathom that, but it is true. I have seen the testimony. It is a blessing for us to do it, and a blessing to those that receive it.”
Donors can follow their box to its final destination online at samaritanspurse.org.
“We encourage people to include a note in the box, about who you are and where you live and maybe a little prayer,” Heard said. “We have received letters from people that received boxes we sent. It is exciting to get that feedback. If you have a picture, include that, and your name, church and address. It’s meaningful to recipients and is a way to give gifts to people who may never receive one. They look for the notes, they like to know who cares about them, who sent them the gift.”
Trinity Baptist Church will present a musical to promote Operation Christmas Child at 6 p.m. Sunday. The humorous production is written by Kathie Hill and is set at Fort Faithful, where peace-keeping troops led by Sergeant Smarter with Private Eye, Private Elvis Presby, and Private Gomer Smyle as Unit 12-25 embarks on a mission called Operation Christmas Child. Incorporated into the story line is a message from Franklin Graham, along with footage of children across the globe receiving their Christmas shoe boxes.
For more information on the program, visit samaritanspurse.org or call James Groves at 405-9022.
For more information on the musical, call 480-1555.
• Toys: Include items that children will immediately embrace such as dolls, toy trucks, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos, jump ropes, balls, toys that light up and make noise (with extra batteries), etc.
• School supplies: Pens, pencils and sharpeners, crayons or markers, stamps and ink pad sets, writing pads or paper, solar calculators, coloring and picture books, etc.
• Hygiene items: Toothbrush, mild bar soap (in a plastic bag), comb, washcloth, etc.
• Accessories: T-shirts, socks, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, watches, flashlights (with extra batteries).
• A personal note: You may enclose a note to the child and a photo of yourself or your family. If you include your name and address, the child may write back.
• Do not include: Used or damaged items; war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures; chocolate or food; out-of-date candy; liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans.
• DeQuincy — First Baptist Church, 201 S. Pine St., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 18; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 19; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 20; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 21; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 22; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 23; 2-4 p.m. Nov. 24; 8:30 a.m.-noon Nov. 25.
• DeRidder — Temple Baptist Church, 122 Martin Luther King Dr., from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 18; 1-5 p.m. Nov. 19; 2-7 p.m. Nov. 20; 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 21; 2-7 p.m. Nov. 22; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 23; 2-4 p.m. Nov. 24 and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 25.
• Jennings — Bethel Ministries, 15147 Hwy. 102, 1-5 p.m. Nov. 18-20; 1-7 p.m. Nov. 21-22; 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. Nov. 23; 9 a.m.-noon and 2-5 p.m. Nov. 24; 9-11 a.m. Nov. 25.
• Kinder — Bible Church, 323 N. Seventh St., from 4-6 p.m. Nov. 18; 3-6 p.m. Nov. 19-22; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 23; 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Nov. 24 and 9-10 a.m. Nov. 25.
• Lake Charles — The Dwelling Place, 1800 E. College St., Noon-5 p.m. Nov. 18-21; Noon-6 p.m. Nov. 22; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 23; 2-5 p.m. Nov. 24; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 25.
• Leesville — East Leesville Baptist Church, 266 Alexandria Hwy., 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 18-22; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 23; 8 a.m.-noon Nov. 24; 8-10 a.m. Nov. 25.
• Sulphur — Maplewood First Baptist Church, 4601 Maplewood Dr., 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 18-23; 9 a.m.-noon Nov. 24; 9-11 a.m. Nov. 25.